You can still get COVID-19 after a vaccine, here’s why

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Keri Nasenbeny, associate chief nursing officer at UW Medical Center – Northwest, administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Tyson Greer, 77, early Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 in Seattle. Hospitals rushed out COVID-19 vaccines to hundreds of people in the middle of the night after a freezer they were being stored in failed. (Evan Bush /The Seattle Times via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – While two vaccines are welcome developments in the fight against COVID-19, they are not a full suit of armor against the virus.

There is a possibility of infection after receiving doses of the vaccine.

“I think it’s still worth getting it even if you could potentially get the actual disease,” said Dr. Becky Smith, an infectious disease specialist at Duke Health.

Why can infections happen?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines tout efficacy above 90 percent. They still leave room for the potential of infection after the second dose.

Among the more than 40,000 people involved in the Pfizer vaccine study:

  • 170 participants contracted the virus
  • 162 were in the placebo group
  • 10 people experienced severe illness
  • 9 of those with severe illnesses were in the placebo group

For Moderna’s 30,000 person trial group:

  • 95 participants contracted the virus
  • 90 were in the placebo group
  • All 11 severe cases were found in the placebo group

“It looks like they’re very protective against severe disease that can lead to hospitalization and they’re very protective against even dying from COVID. So, the good news is it’s very rare. I can happen but pretty unlikely,” Smith said.

The Pfizer vaccine is only 52-percent effective after its first dose. The Moderna vaccine is slightly more effective after the first dose at 80 percent. These figures allow an opportunity for a patient to contract COVID-19 between doses, too.

Vaccines are showing to be effective against new variants of the disease, as well. As long as there are people not vaccinated, the virus will continue to have human hosts in which to mutate.

Another reason someone may become infected is that neither of the available vaccines provides instant protection. It can take several weeks for immunity to develop after the second dose is administered.

“You could certainly be exposed to COVID right as you were getting your first shot or right after it. So, we continue to promote is all of the infection control measures that work that we’ve been promoting all along,” Smith said.

There have already been reports of people becoming infected with the virus after vaccination. Most recently, Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch reported he tested positive but was asymptomatic.

The CDC said: “It’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and still get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.”

“I really think this is our time to give everybody the maximum type of protection that is available to us to stop COVID, which is getting vaccinated. My recommendation is for everyone to get whatever vaccine is being offered to you at the time. It will afford you protection sooner and we can’t let our guard down,” Smith said.

Neither vaccines include a live or dead version of the virus, which is why the CDC reported the vaccines themselves cannot make you sick.

While there is the chance of infection, it’s a smaller possibility than the flu vaccines patients have become accustomed to. The CDC reported that vaccination “reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.”

What if you’ve already tested positive?

Even for those who already tested positive, a vaccine is still recommended by the CDC. They recommended a vaccine because of the health risks associated with the virus and the possibility of re-infection.

However, the agency has recommended patients wait until all their symptoms are done before getting the vaccine.

Layers of protection

While vaccines may protect you from getting sick, it’s unknown how much vaccines will stop you from spreading the virus.

It’s why Smith said layering protections like masking, social distancing and staying home when you can continue to be important.

“It’s a bundle of best practices or strategies at all work as a very nice package to prevent infection. We all believe that vaccination is probably number one through 10 of the most important part of the bundle now that we have available. Very closely followed by masking, physical or social distancing and again trying to avoid crowds,” Smith said.

Even after an vaccination, Smith said it’s important to keep up with those protective methods.

“We just have to hang in there and we can do it. We’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” Smith said.

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